So, you have decided to take the big life plunge and try to get pregnant! Now what? That decision occupied your mind for so long that you may not have thought of much else, but now the decision is made and you are wondering what to do next. Questions flood your mind as to how to prepare for the healthiest pregnancy that you can imagine. You are not alone! These are some of the most common questions OB/GYNs receive and the answers are some of the most important things you can do for yourself and your future baby.
Simply put, a healthy lifestyle is the best way to have a healthy and hopefully, low risk pregnancy. A healthy lifestyle is composed of many modifiable factors. Here are some key recommendations:
1. Stop smoking – Smoking has many negative health risks including increased risk of lung and cervical cancer, but can be particularly risky in pregnancy. Smoking can cause changes in the placenta which can compromise your baby’s health. Babies of smoking mothers often have difficulty growing in utero and can have further health consequences during pregnancy and/or after birth. Further, smoking around infants and children has been linked to a higher incidence of childhood asthma. So, if you have not been able to kick the habit yet for your own health, now you have an even better reason to do so. Stop smoking safely and under the guidance of a physician if needed, but try to do so prior to pregnancy.
2. Decrease (and eventually stop) alcohol consumption – While trying to conceive, it is safe to have an occasional glass of wine, but drinking to excess like you did in your younger years may not be the best option. Excessive alcohol intake has several negative effects on your overall health and since you want to be in the best condition possible for pregnancy, cutting down or quitting entirely during this time is one of the healthiest decisions you can make. When you find out you are pregnant, you should stop consuming ALL alcoholic beverages. Excess alcohol consumption during pregnancy can lead to a devastating condition called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, characterized by distinctive facial features, deformities, growth restriction, and learning disabilities.
3. Stop any drug use – Some drugs are more dangerous than others, but none are recommended in pregnancy regardless. Some drugs are highly addictive for both mom and baby and some are used with less of a risk of addiction. If you can stop safely on your own, do so as soon as possible to clear your body of all effects of the substance. If you find yourself struggling to quit your drug of choice, consult a medical professional for assistance as soon as possible.
4. Diet – Diet refers to your choice of daily nutrition, NOT “a diet” meant to lose weight. Most diets full of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins are considered healthy before and during pregnancy. Moderation is the key in any diet. You can have some “junk” or unhealthy food options occasionally, but limiting candies, pastries, desserts, chips, sodas, red meats, etc will keep you healthy and your body functioning optimally in preparation for pregnancy.
5. Exercise – Exercise is a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is also extremely important in pregnancy, but is very difficult to start or increase during pregnancy. Therefore, having a sustainable exercise regimen of at least 55 minutes three times a week prior to pregnancy will set you up to maintain a good regimen during pregnancy and decrease your risk for some pregnancy complications.
6. Prenatal Vitamins with DHA – Prenatal vitamins are a supplement to add to even the healthiest of diets. Ideally, you want to start them three months prior to conceiving to ensure you have the necessary nutrients to prepare for pregnancy. DHA is a component of many prenatal vitamins and is important for brain development during pregnancy. Although you do not need it before you conceive, it may be easier to buy a prenatal vitamin that already contains DHA so that you are taking it when you have your positive pregnancy test.
7. Addressing any medical issues – If you (or your partner, if genetically involved in the pregnancy) have not seen a primary medical doctor within the last year, you both should. You should be aware of and address any and all medical issues prior to pregnancy. If you have any pre-existing medical problems, you should have a follow-up with your physician to ensure that your health is as optimized at possible prior to conceiving. If you need to see a specialist for any reason, prior to pregnancy is the best time to do so.
8. Preconception counseling – Lastly, but certainly not least, you should have a preconception counseling visit with your OB/GYN approximately 2-3 months prior to when you want to start trying to conceive. This time frame allows you to complete any evaluations and have all results prior to starting your journey. Some of the most important topics covered during the visit include immunity testing and genetic carrier screening. Although some of these can be completed at your first prenatal visit, not all issues can be addressed during pregnancy and are best managed prior to conceiving.
These recommendations are just some of the general recommendations for all pregnancies and a good place to start. However, each individual person is different and should have a full assessment by a licensed medical provider. If you have not already made your appointment, call your provider and get started on this exciting and life changing journey today!